word about letters
In his recent collection, Ghulam Hussain Sajid's intrinsic climate finds a perfectly harmonised expression in his mother tongue Punjabi
By Abrar Ahmad
Tun Ravi Tayeen
It happens, not so infrequently, that an author fails to properly recognise his prime strength and keeps dabbling with a genre that is not best suited to his creative temperament. We may find a good number of such examples; Shohrat Bokhari, the celebrated author, being one of them. Bokhari devoted his entire life to ghazal -- and excelled in it to a certain extent -- but could not attain perfection that fell to the lot of contemporaries like Munir Niazi and Nasir Kazmi.
During the closing years of his life and career, he penned down his autobiography 'Khoay Huoun Ki Justajoo' and was immediately raised to the status of a master prose writer. Many of us remember him more for this work than anything else.
Select writers have the good fortune of excelling in whatever they do. Mohammad Hasan Askari was a short-story writer and a reasonably successful one before he recognised the grand critic within him and devoted his entire life to this field. He is one of the greatest critics of Urdu literature.
Ghulam Hussain Sajid, a prominent ghazal poet of 1970s, falls in the same category. He was a member of cohort of brilliant poets like Sarwat Hussain, Afzaal Ahmad Syed, Jamal Ehsani, Mohammad Izhar ul Haq, Mohammad Khalid and Khalid Iqbal Yasser who collectively attempted to strike a note which could define their departure from the pre-existing poetic paradigm.
Sajid has five collections of Urdu poetry of a respectable standard to his credit. He mastered the art of constructing a perfect line (misrah) and enriched his ghazal with his unique themes.
In spite of his enviable command on the genre , one could not find that loveable, soft and smiling light which is shed when a truly subjective affinity illuminates a creative piece. He did succeed with style in achieving a note of his own -- owing to his tenacious adherence to Asatiri or mythological element. His works display a sort of intense indulgence but a keen reader can not help noticing a hint of mechanised deliberation. He planned books and created them. He once observed: "I think in terms of books, not ghazals." Consequently, he planned and kept producing one book after the other on a pre-decided topic or theme.
Sajid has been exceptionally prolific. Ordinarily, speed in creative writing is associated with some extraordinary inspiration which often results in a feverishly-charged expression and may not capture the readers' imagination. But this was not true of him.
In order to correctly evaluate Ghulam Hussain Sajid, one has to distance himself to have a proper look at his works; still one notices the strange absence of the man himself. It is, in fact, an ingenious pursuit which demands a different parameter to judge it and in spite of these observations does hold a valuable status in contemporary Urdu poetry.
This exceptionally talented poet is unidentifiably different and captivating when he creates in Punjabi -- his mother tongue. He has an almost equal number of Punjabi titles, though having a considerably slim volume. 'Saraswati Tun Ravi Tayeen' is the most recent of his collection of Punjabi poems. Sajid writes in the preface : "I fail to unfold the mystery of my own Punjabi poetry... A series of knots get tied within me. With each poem a knot is undone and I keep writing till I am totally relieved."
Despite this observation that he makes, one is still not sure if he realises that Punjabi poetry is his true forte. It appears that Punjabi poetry forces him to sit down and write. He gets carried away and fails to resist here. Sympathy of this kind, founded on clear self-knowledge, is so necessary and yet so rare. It is precisely this creative helplessness which leads to the creation of phenomenal and penetrating artworks. Reading his collection proves beyond doubt that Sajid's intrinsic climate finds a perfectly harmonised expression in his mother tongue -- a language which he inherited and learnt never to forget. He has an astonishing reservoir of Punjabi words and has a complete understanding of the tradition behind.
The first radical change one notices is his dissociation from ghazal, a direct descendant of Persian poetry, and taking to the form of nazm. The interest of nazm lies in the variety of moods, its transition from lofty to homely and the majority of his nazms follow the pattern. He has devised an ample symbolic structure which imparts a sort of individuality at once isolated and in continuity with the traditional themes. He seems immediately sensitive to the genius of the sufi poets while confronting his own times in a true artistic manner.
His nazms are burning, harmonious and swift-moving. He equates and identifies himself with the aroma of his ancestral soil, to which he belongs, but has been exiled and staggers in modern urbanised settings. He mourns for rivers getting dried up, eliminating the once throbbing civilizations that existed on their banks. This is all reduced to memories. His own reality is getting extinct in oblivion and through his nazms he attempts to recreate and relive the past.
His diction is a balanced blend of the ancient and the modern. We can identify a modern man with all shades of feelings. At the same time there is a wave of 'malamat' (self pity) running throughout his offerings.
In the introductory note, he writes that he is in fact an Urdu poet while is forced into labour when he creates in Punjabi. It is easy to conclude that the reverse of this claim is true and his salvation rests in more energetic and committed efforts in Punjabi. In order to concur with the opinion that his Punjabi poetry surpasses his Urdu verses, one may have to make a comparative study of his work in both the languages.
Everyday peace in a Karachi apartment building
By Beena Sarwar
Laura A. Ring's study of social patterns and relationships in a multi-ethnic situation in Pakistan, 'Zenana: Everyday peace in a Karachi apartment building', focuses on three main themes: tension, anger and intimacy, each in its own way essential to peace.
The stage for these themes is set in the first chapter, 'A Day in the Life', which I found useful to refer to in order to understand the relationships and characters that form the basis of Ring's thesis. An underlying thread running through these themes is the complexity of ritual exchange or reciprocity. A groundbreaking study conducted in Pakistan, 1949-55, by Margaret Mead's Turkish protegee Zekiye Eglar focused on women as the centre of ritualised reciprocity (A Punjabi Village in Pakistan, Columbia University Press 1960).
Ring, living for a year as a Fulbright scholar with her Pakistani husband and pre-school son in a modern multi-ethnic apartment building, finds similar patterns and much complexity in this closed unit of contemporary, urban Karachi. The women interact peacefully despite the ethnic tensions that routinely disrupt Karachi, using the vehicle of gift and service exchange (helping each other out) on a mutually understood reciprocal basis that their men-folk have little if anything to do with, and indeed sometimes disapprove of.
Conversant in Urdu, the 'national' language of Pakistan, Ring is an 'outsider-insider', married to a Pakistani who is half Sindhi and half Mohajir, two of the main ethnicities in the apartment building under observation, the Shipyard. As in the village Eglar studied over fifty years ago, the reciprocity in this contemporary urban unit is neither spontaneous nor random. There are unwritten, unspoken rules and expectations that Ring's informants help her to understand. These informants are also her best friends in the building. It is these personal relationships that make Ring's professional work possible. Through these friends, who are practitioners of conventions from different ethnic backgrounds, various codes begin to unravel. This leads to an important insight: the reciprocity depends on tension: there has to be a certain tension in the reciprocity in order to sustain it.
For example, as in most South Asian cultures, the Shipyard residents know that a dish of food sent round to the neighbours is not to be returned empty. But the woman who returns the dish too promptly with food of the same quantity and quality in effect ends the tension. Her neighbours' relations with her are not as warm as with the woman who keeps the dish and returns it a few days later with a gift of a different quality and quantity (p. 76-77). The "tension of sustained engagement is actually existing peace", maintains Ring. The kind of body that can take on and bear tension is, she suspects, "a modern body, with an interiority of nerves and feelings, and it is, above all, a feminine body" (p. 80-81).
Interesting also are Ring's insights into the world of 'anger' that she finds, is not just 'felt' but 'learned', particularly by men that women protect each other from. She teases out the contradictions present in concepts like 'honour' that can lead to anger and violence if they are not 'managed'.
Ring also finds unexpected and interesting nuances in widely misunderstood areas that particularly fascinate the Western world, like 'purdah' (gender segregation). She learns that the woman who veils indiscriminately misses the opportunity to "use purdah as a sign of status and intimacy" (p.143). Interestingly, this is the same woman who returned the dish too quickly -- who happened to be a Mohajir or Urdu-speaker. Ring's chief informants (her best friends) are Zubaida, a Sindhi, and Aliya, a Punjabi. It is they who teach her of the need to "veil enough, for the right people, to demonstrate an appropriate degree of sharm" (shame) while "tacitly eschew veiling in order to assert status and to affirm a closer, less formal social relationship (between women, via their husbands)" (p. 142-3).
In discussing these relationships Ring happens upon one of the major tensions that has dogged Pakistan since its birth in 1947 -- identity, as embodied by ethnicity and language (religion, a culturally underlying theme, but not an overriding factor in the lives of the women Ring meets). Aliya and Zubaida, she notes, "articulate a widely shared vernacular discomfort with Urdu culture, which is seen as cool and aloof" (p. 77). But these apparent identities contain confusing linkages. As Ring learns at her very first dinner party in the building, "ethnicity in the Shipyard was confounding, complex, shifting, and unpredictable. Ruhi, the 'Sindhi' hostess was 'actually a Pathan" who grew up in interior Sindh and married into a Sindhi family. Mustafa was a Muhajir, but more important, neighbors stressed, he was a 'Syed', descendent of the Prophet. Aliya spoke Punjabi but she was 'actually Kashmiri'...." (p.4). No one seems to have any problem with the fact that the lingua franca for all these ethnic groups is, ironically, Urdu -- the language of the Mohajirs.
All in all, Ring's study is an important addition to the growing body of work on Pakistani society, particularly the world of women that many analysts believe contains a key to achieving lasting peace in this volatile area.
review was originally published in the The Middle East Journal, Volume 61,
4 (Autumn 2007)
Persian remained the official language in the South Asian region throughout the medieval period. The situation changed in the 19th century when British rule was established and, consequently, the importance of Persian began to wane. It was finally replaced by English -- language of the new rulers of the region.
Persian was introduced here by the Central Asian rulers and was readily adopted by the Muslim intelligentsia as the language of high culture and scholarship. It was also accepted by the non-Muslim sections of the Indian population who were keen to join hands with the ruling classes.
The adoption of a foreign language played havoc with the creative abilities of the people. It led to the failure of the medieval India to produce outstanding persons in any field of cultural and intellectual activities. It produced only mediocre poets, writers, historians, thinkers and theologians.
Moreover, the Indians who adopted Persian as medium of expression were mocked and downgraded by the ahl-e-zaban. Their achievements were never acknowledged.
Yet all that was produced in Persian in the medieval India is part of our heritage and we cannot ignore it. The complete decline of the language in the region has weakened our relation with the heritage. Hence a centre of excellence for Persian should be established and some people should be encouraged to learn it.
It was against this backdrop that the Iranian consul general in Karachi, Masood Mohammad Zamani, proposed the establishment of a centre for the promotion of Persian deserves serious consideration. The proposal was made at the 5th International Persian Conference organised recently by the University of Karachi.
Fahmida Kausar's book launched
Fahmida Kausar who teaches history at a college in Lahore contributes weekly columns to an Urdu newspaper and pens short stories. Her two collections of short stories, Pather ka Aadmi and Dhoop ka Musafir came out last year. She has now come up with her third collection published by The Book Home Publishers of Lahore titled Pichley Pehr ki Dastak contains 28 short stories spread over 144 pages. Many of these stories have been narrated in a symbolic style. They depict man's existentialist predicament in the contemporary world.
The book was launched recently and was attended by many writers and critics. Those who spoke on the occasion included Dr. Ajmal Niazi, Sarfraz Syed, Khalid Hamid, Amjad Tufail, Soofia Beydar, Farrukh and Nawaz Khan.
the grand science-
British born novelist Arthur C. Clarke who is famous worldwide as the grand old man of science-fiction died in Sri Lanka, his adopted home since 1956, in the third week of March. He was 90.
He began writing in 1950 and won his early success three years later when his first science fiction novel Childhood's End was published. His second and third sci fi novels, Earthlight (1955) and The City and her Stars (1956), were also well-received. These three novels carried the impact of Olaf Stapledon but Clarke soon moved out of his influence.
Out of the 90 odd books that he published, Clarke would be mostly remembered for 2001 -- A Space Odyssey (1968), Rendezvous with Rama (1973) and The songs of Distant Earth (1968).
Arthur C . Clarke's scholarship and imagination inspired many scientists but he was not in the good books of scientific establishment. The result was quite bizarre -- he was forced to publish some of his technical writings in the Playboy magazine.
In my last column I mentioned Dr. Sabir Kalarvi as one of the participants of the international Urdu Seminar organised recently by the GC University of Faisalabad. I met him at the seminar. It was our first meeting and he was kind enough to invite me to present a paper at an international conference that he was planning to hold in October at Peshawar University where he was chairman of the Urdu department.
It was difficult to imagine that the learned professor who had ten books to his credit including four on the poetry and message of Allama Iqbal was soon going to leave this world. Dr. Sabir Kalarvi died of cardiac failure on March 22 and was buried in Abbotabad the next day.
Anwar Ghalib is another noted writer who passed away in March. She died in Lahore at the age of 80. 1980s were the most creative years of Anwar Ghalib's life during which she published three novels -- Raat ka Suraj, Nadee and Abu Zaman.
Her writings carried strong influence of spiritualism and Sufism. She was wife of Raja Ghalib Ahmad, a known poet and literary critic.